Huskies hope pass rush effective vs. California

SEATTLE (AP) There was no plan for the Washington duo of Danny Shelton and Hau’oli Kikaha to turn their preseason goal of trying to get to the quarterback into a friendly competition.

It’s just become that way with the two among the national leaders in sacks after five games.

”We weren’t taking it as an actual wager,” Shelton joked recently.

Through five games, Shelton and Kikaha have provided the pressure Washington was hoping to get from its defensive line. Both players have seven sacks – tied for third nationally – and are likely to get more chances this Saturday when the Huskies return from their bye week against pass-happy California.

It’s the only bye week of the season for Washington (4-1, 0-1 Pac-12) and was a needed rest. After a physical 20-13 loss to Stanford on Sept. 27, the Huskies now face three straight high-tempo offenses: At California, at No. 12 Oregon and vs. No. 20 Arizona State to close out October.

”We’ve got a long season in front of us still to make sure we’re rested up and ready for this grind that’s going to take place,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. ”Nobody else in the conference has one bye. We’re the only team that does, so now we have straight games all the way through. This is going to be hard.”

Seeing Kikaha near the top of the list for sack leaders was expected. The versatile senior played defensive end in recent year before being moved to a hybrid defensive end/linebacker position this year in a scheme brought from Boise State by Petersen and defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski. Kikaha had 13 sacks as a junior, tied for the second-most in Washington history. He has 24 total sacks in his career and needs six more to tie the school record of 30.

But Shelton being near the top of the list is a bit of a surprise. Shelton’s primary job for much of his Washington career has been using his 6-foot-2, 330-pound frame to try to clog up the middle and stop the run. Getting to the quarterback has been secondary.

What Shelton has is unique quickness for a defensive tackle and that’s led Washington to use him in different spots on the defensive line early this season to see if he can be effective lining up as a defensive end or even a stand-up rusher.

”I think we know what Danny can do, but I think it’s about moving combinations around and still getting him to do what he does well,” Petersen said. ”But line him up different ways so not everybody sees going against that guy 40 plays in a row.”

Some of Shelton’s stats are inflated thanks to four sacks against FCS powerhouse Eastern Washington in the Huskies’ second game. But the pass-rush ability seems to be catching the eye of NFL scouts. Shelton has gone from being a possible second-day pick to now a potential first-rounder according to some draft analysts.

Shelton said he never expected to be competing with Kikaha among the sack leaders. He’s the only defensive tackle among the top eight in the country in sacks through five games.

”I’m not going to be complacent. I’m going to continue to work my butt off and get some more sacks,” Shelton said. ”My position is super hard to get into the backfield. I’m going to continue to do my job and whatever happens, happens.”